Social media is the first marketing channel where customers can actually talk back. This is a new concept for traditional brand marketers, who are used to being able to completely control the brand message with TV and print advertising that is akin to shouting with a megaphone. Consumers have a choice - and a voice - on social media; they don't have to listen to brands, and they're free to "talk back", making it a two-way conversation. This shifts the power from the brand to the consumer, and consumers today expect to be able to engage with brands wherever and whenever they want. A brand's response (or lack thereof) plays a big role in customer satisfaction and loyalty.
I asked 27 social media and customer service experts three questions about what happened in social care in 2016 and what might be coming in 2017. Their responses - along with my own - will be shared in three different posts, starting here with the first question:
"Why do social media marketers need to care about customer service?"
(Experts are listed in alphabetical order.)
Roy Atkinson, Senior Writer/Analyst, UBM Americas (@RoyAtkinson): "Every marketer, social or otherwise, should care about their brand's customer service. What you are doing when you market your brand is making a promise. Whether or not your brand fulfills that promise is up to everyone associated with the brand. Companies that have a customer focus will perform better over time, and success markets itself."
Jay Baer, Author/Speaker/President of Convince & Convert (@jaybaer): "When it plays out in social media - in full view of the public - customer service becomes a spectator sport. And in that environment, social care drives reputation, intent, and purchase. All of these are historically the purview of marketing and communications, thus marketers MUST care about social customer service. Further, customer service is one of the most correlated drivers of customer experience, loyalty, and advocacy. To put it simply: without strong customer service, great marketing is wasted."
Alan Berkson, Director of Community Outreach / Analyst & Influencer Relations, Freshdesk (@berkson0): "Marketers need to take the words 'social media' out of the equation. The playing field has changed. Digital media is pervasive and multi-channel. What this means for marketers is there are conversations going on across multiple digital channels, some of which are directed at you, the brand, but more often they are directed at friends and colleagues. For marketers, customer service conversations are a wealth of information. Customers are talking about what is most important to them about their brand experience. So listen. Listen some more. Learn. Then, when you're ready, join the conversation."
Nate Brown, Manager of Client Services, UL (@CustomerIsFirst): "The customer views the organization as one brand; it's time for the company to do the same. By siloing social media and customer service, they are almost guaranteed to 'speak' with two different voices. In order to achieve a clear consistent brand, marketing and customer service must be closely aligned on everything from the knowledge base to phone personality."
James Degnan, Xbox Community Support Manager: "Community is the new marketing - If a customer has a positive interaction with a brand, it will increase their loyalty, and likelihood of recommendations to friends. If a brand on social media is a one-way marketing mechanism, they are missing an opportunity to build rapport."
Stephan Delbos, Editor & Content Manager, Brand Embassy (@StellarCX): "Social media marketers need to care about customer service because digital customer service, that is, customer service on social media and other digital channels, actually blurs the border between marketing and customer service. With most companies competing on the basis of customer experience rather than cost these days, great customer service and great CX (which often stems from positive interactions with brands on social media) is the best way for a brand to differentiate itself. Look at Zappos: a company that sells a boring product (that they do not manufacture) but has nevertheless created a huge reputation on the basis of their customer service. Social customer service is the new marketing."
John DiJulius, President of The DiJulius Group & Customer Service Consultant (@JohnDiJulius): "Because it isn't about marketing campaigns any more, it is about conversations. Let's not forget the 'social' part of social media. We are so inundated with advertising mania on every channel. We used to ignore it, but now I see a new evolution happening: We are getting annoyed by it. You do not want your brand to be annoying. [Starbucks Founder & CEO] Howard Schultz said it best: 'The rules of engagement of traditional marketing, advertising, and public relations is no longer an effective tool because of the way in which people are interacting in the new channels of communications. Now, the mistake that most companies are making is they are using these channels as an opportunity to sell stuff. It is really not designed for that. In fact I would submit that you should really resist that temptation and use social media as reservoir of trust with your customers.'"
Whitney Drake, OpEx Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program (formerly Social Strategy & Care), General Motors (@qoswhit): "Social media marketers need to care about customer service because the expectation of social is a two-way dialogue. Social provides the ability for customers to speak directly to companies and as a result customers expect you to answer their questions and concerns in that space. If a company is not in the social space answering them, they will find another company that is/can."
Adam Fraser, Founder of EchoJunction (@adamf2014): "Marketers need to be across social customer service for a number of reasons. It's such an important part of the overall product or service and customer experience, and can be a key driver of retention, brand loyalty and willingness to recommend to others. Millennials in particular want brands to be easily accessible, but across all demographics the easier you make it for your customers to engage with you on a channel of their choice, the better. To me, social customer service dovetailed with social listening is a critical element in any enterprise social business strategy."
Dan Gingiss, Marketing & Customer Experience Executive (@dgingiss): "Every time companies put content in people's streams, they invite customers to engage. Sometimes, the company is lucky enough that they want to engage with the content. Other times, the marketing simply serves as a reminder that the company exists and that the customer has an unresolved issue. So social marketers need to care about customer service because marketing begets customer service in social media. And the more companies spend on amplification, the more feedback they receive."
Lisa Goode, Senior Director of Social Business, Southwest Airlines (@TheGoodePlace): "Across the airline industry, airlines are placing more and more focus on their customers, making the Customer Service 'arm' of the business look more like a marketing tool. A few years ago it was rare to find an airline providing social customer service 24/7, 365 days a year. Now, providing online Customer Service 24/7 is the standard, and airlines are using this feature to show their dedication to their customers while investing in other efforts to better the overall travel experience. Our Marketing counterparts are fully engaged in our Customer Service social media efforts which work in tandem with their social marketing efforts."
Shep Hyken, Customer Service & Experience Expert (@Hyken): "Social media has become a very popular channel that customers use to reach out to the companies they do business with. It used to be that it was a follow up to not getting a response to an email or long wait times on hold. For some customers, it has become the first way they communicate. It is imperative that marketers pay attention to what their customers are saying (tweeting, posting, etc.) and respond in a timely fashion."
Andrew Hutchinson, Head of Content & Social Media, Social Media Today (@adhutchinson): "Quite simply, social is where your customers are, and increasingly, it's where they're finding answers - whether those responses are from you or somebody else. Facebook, for example, now has more than 1.79 billion users, equivalent to around a quarter of the world's population. Now that might not sound like much, but consider this - of the 7.5 billion people in the world, only around 3.8 billion of them have access to the internet, and when you take into account other factors, like regions where Facebook is blocked, the actual reach of the platform is more like 47% - or more simply, one in two people who can access Facebook, do, and most of them do so every day. That's a pretty compelling stat. And as time spent on social platforms rises, so too does the amount and variance of interactions continue to increase. People have come to rely on social the same way the previous generation relied on the telephone - and I don't need to explain the value of the phone as a customer service tool. If you're not thinking of social in this way, you're massively underestimating the medium. This is how people communicate, where people ask questions, where people find answers. Increasingly, it's the brands that are hearing those voices that will win out."
Kriti Kapoor, Global Director of Social Customer Care, HP Inc. (@Kriti_Kapoor): "Customer experience gets shaped by every single interaction a customer has with a brand, at every single touch point. Social media and customer service is no exception. In fact, with rapidly growing expectations, it is our customers who are forcing us to raise the bar and show up as ONE brand, ONE team regardless of channel. This year at HP, this held more true than any other year in our brand's social journey. Our two teams partnered on numerous fronts, as we: 1) Extended our reach by covering more branded handles in more languages and replying to customer feedback on paid dark posts; 2) Broadened our coverage by replying to online reviews that drive purchase decisions; and 3) Deepened our engagement by taking on a new crisis management approach for a quicker and better coordinated response. In fact, (Product) Marketing channeled dollars in support of social care and the need for better customer service."
Davy Kestens, Founder & CEO, Sparkcentral (@davykestens): "Great marketers should be able to collaborate well with the customer care organization to deliver a dependable and consistently great social customer experience. Customer experience has a lot of influence on how decisions are made about which brands to do business with, and the customer experience is no longer just defined by great marketing. Social customer service has become a major touch point and a strong driver of overall brand sentiment and reputation."
Allison Leahy, Director of Community, Fitbit (@zapleahy): "All parts of the org should care about customer service! CS is the cornerstone of brand experience. Talking directly to your customers 1:1 is going to make more of an impression than any lifestyle campaign, no matter how motivational or heartwarming the storyline. When you are making thousands of connections every day, you would do best to make those connections meaningful. Our philosophy on the Community Team is to make sure people leave the conversation feeling happier and more taken care of than when they opened their discussion with us. If your social media marketing team and your customer care team aren't sharing information, neither are going to be as successful as they would be if they were working together. There are so many useful insights that can be passed between the two to ensure any content being created is useful and entertaining."
Jeff Lesser, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Twitter (@jefflesser): "Customer service was the one of the earliest behaviors on Twitter - and over the last decade, we've seen Twitter become the best place for businesses to provide care to their customers. Twitter is live, public, and conversational - which makes for a great experience for both the consumer and the brand. Being responsive on Twitter not only builds relationships but it impacts the bottom line. Recent research shows that when a customer Tweets at a business and receives a response, they are willing to spend 3-20% more on an average priced item from that business in the future. Marketers can't ignore that!"
Joshua March, Founder & CEO, Conversocial (@joshuamarch): "Customer service achieves many marketing goals and is even more powerful because it creates a frictionless, effortless customer experience. Customer service inquiries enable brands to have direct and meaningful conversations with customers, directly impacting customer loyalty and the bottom line. Today's messaging platforms have significantly increased capabilities of private, 1:1 messaging (both Messenger and Twitter DM) which lend themselves far more to customer service than anything else, in my opinion. And when customers are engaged one-on-one in these channels for service, it creates a captive audience, making it much more efficient to use the same channels for sales and marketing activities. For example, in Messenger, a brand can place ads that only show up for consumers who have a direct messaging channel open with that brand. This translates into a direct and measurable ROI. Marketing has a tremendous amount to gain from this interaction."
Laurie Meacham, Manager Customer Commitment, JetBlue Airways (@LaurieAMeacham): "Because how you are with your customers lends transparency and a genuine snapshot of who you are, as a brand, and what you market. It's the one on one relationships that build trust and earn you the right to market to those customers."
Dan Moriarty, Director of Digital, Chicago Bulls (@iamdanmoriarty): "The internet has made the world smaller, and customers now have seemingly limitless choices when it comes to where (and on what) they spend their money. We're also all walking around connected (should we choose) 24/7. Long-term relationships will be built (and lost) on customer experience, and the customer's mobile device will continue to play an increasingly important role in the journey here. Brands which aren't prepared to make their customer's lives easier/ better by engaging with them on their device of choice will quickly be left behind, with customers choosing to spend their money with brands who are."
Bill Quiseng, Chief Experience Officer, billquiseng.com (@billquiseng): "Any customer seeking support via social media can just as easily broadcast pleasure or dissatisfaction of that service via the very same channels. If you're not listening, your customer will gladly speak out to your customers who might be. Ultimately, you do not define your brand. Your customers do."
Ben Roberts, Marketing Strategist, Heinnie Haynes (@Roberts_Ben_M): "Because customers are social. People spend their time on social, so if you want to really affect their thoughts and feelings and opinions you have to be in those spaces. If you aren't on social, you won't get as much feedback. Feedback drives improvement. Improvement leads to more sales."
Neal Schaffer, CEO & Principal Social Media Strategy Consultant, Maximize Your Social (@NealSchaffer): "Customer Experience is King. As social media marketers we expose social media users to our brand, but the customer experience will determine if they both convert as well as remain loyal and hopefully become our advocates. That's why social media marketers need to care about - and collaborate more intensely with - their customer service team."
Peter Shankman (@petershankman): "No one believes how great you are if you're the one who has to tell them. Social marketers need to understand that all the marketing in the world is worthless if the friends of the people you're trying to reach are telling them how horrible you are."
Ravi Shukle, Social Media & Relationship Marketing Expert (@ravishukle): "Social customer service has become vital for businesses today as there is no longer a choice. Whether you chose to embrace social customer care or not, your customers will still be talking about you online. Without taking the extra time to listen and engage with these customers, you are losing the opportunity to spotlight your biggest fans as well as turn around negative opinions before they have a chance to escalate."
Adam Toporek, Founder, CTS Service Solutions (@adamtoporek): "Social media is a customer care channel, whether brands want it to be or not. Social media marketers should understand that they are now deeply connected to the 'customer service' portion of the customer's experience, and that they do not own their organization's social media - the customer does."
Jeremy Watkin, Head of Quality, First Call Resolution (@jwatkin): "I've heard so many people say, 'Customer service is the new marketing,' that it's hard to know who to credit with the quote- but it's true. In an age where customers have a stronger voice than ever, a poor customer service experience can quickly undermine any positive momentum created by marketing. For social media marketers to be successful, they must be fanatical about listening to the voice of the customer and partnering with customer service to create a consistently great customer experience."
Scott Wise, Founder/President/CEO, Scotty's Brewhouse (@brewhouse): "Because social media has nothing to do with marketing and EVERYTHING to do with relationships, 2-way conversations and authenticity. The marketing EVOLVES out of these 3 things and customer service blossoms, when done effectively. And, that creates... trust and a desire to WANT to do business with a company that owns their message and medium. Not one that just pumps out marketing messages en masse. The consumer can see right through that strategy and it just does not resonate or create loyalty and a desire to WANT to do business with a company like that. 2017 Marketing is talking with a guest, not AT them."
You can read the second and third posts in this series here and here. For more on social media customer service, including interviews with many of the experts above, check out the Focus on Customer Service Podcast.